How far will this go?
Book publishers are reaching into the great beyond for some late celebrity help in narrating audiobooks.
Using generative AI technology, digital publishers like Apple and Google are able to leverage the famously deceased and use their voices to narrate their audiobooks.
Take the late actor Edward Herrmann, who was often typecast as an aristocratic, Ivy League-educated figure in movies like Overboard, Richie Rich, The Paper Chase, and Eleanor and Franklin.
Herrmann, who passed away on New Year’s Eve in 2014, also narrated dozens of audiobooks – and he’s doing so again.
“Mr. Herrmann’s latest (audiobook) work is generated by DeepZen Ltd., a London-based artificial-intelligence startup that was given access to the actor’s past recordings with his family’s permission,” The Wall Street Journal reported on April 6. “From that trove, DeepZen said it is able to generate any sound and intonation that Mr. Herrmann would have used if he were narrating these new books himself.”
Raising audiobook voices from the dead is largely the domain of DeepZen, Ltd, a U.K. AI company.
DeepZen works with the families of deceased audiobook narrators like Herrmann to get permission to use their voice, and once given the green light, DeepZen and AI take over from there. The company uses past audiobook recordings and from that data is able to emulate the voice, tone, and cadence of an actor who’s been dead for almost 10 years.
“We felt it was an amazing way to carry on his legacy,” said the late actor’s son Rory Herrmann, in comments to The Journal.
Hearing his father’s AI-generated voice narrating a book from beyond the grave was “astonishing” to Herrmann.
“It’s a wow moment,” he said.
So far, Apple and Google are already using AI to narrate audiobook titles, although relying on the deceased to do so is a brand-new phenomenon.
DeepZen is reportedly working on deals for other dead celebrities to handle their audiobook narration needs, The Journal reports.